Sunday, January 31, 2016

Just What IS Conservatism, Anyway? Even They Don't Seem To Know

She’s baaaaack. And some conservatives aren’t as happy as you might expect.

Political humorists recently broke into hosannas of delirious joy at the return of the Mama Grizzly herself, the half-term governor of Alaska, the one, the only, Sarah Palin.
The Quitta from Wasilla recently made a surprise appearance at a rally in Iowa to endorse the current flag-bearer for her patented politics of resentment, Donald J. Trump.
Let me just say, her speech did not disappoint those of us looking forward to the return of authentic Palin gibberish:
“We’re talking about no more Reaganesque power that comes from strength. Power through strength. Well, then, we’re talking about our very existence, so no, we’re not going to chill. In fact, it’s time to drill, baby, drill down, and hold these folks accountable.”
It goes on like this for pages. It’s classic Palin word salad, a barely coherent torrent of buzzwords, talking points, dog-whistles and callbacks to imagined slights. Perhaps the funniest thing about Tina Fey’s inevitable lampoon of Palin’s appearance on “Saturday Night Live” was that many of the biggest laugh lines were lifted verbatim from Palin’s actual speech.
But Trump and Palin’s audience lapped up the original and hooted for more. They seem to adore the illusion of authenticity provided by talented hucksters who dispense with speechwriters and just come out and spout whatever nonsense they think will sell. Who cares that they make no freaking sense? At least they ain’t using no teleprompter, am I right? Haw! Teleprompter! Like Obummer!
This sort of thing is starting to worry those on the right who would like to tell us that “conservatism” is an actual intellectual movement based around rational ideas of small government and lower taxes, rather than the roiling, white-hot ball of xenophobia, bigotry, rage and fear that Trump calls “conservatism.”
The concern has grown to the point where a recent cover story in National Review was titled “Against Trump.” In that issue, various right-wing “thinkers” lined up to take their shots at their party’s frontrunner.
Glenn Beck (the reason I just surrounded the word “thinkers” with quotes) pointed out Trump’s vocal support for Barack Obama’s much-despised yet highly effective stimulus package. The Cato Institute’s David Boaz worried about the cult of personality around Trump, calling him “the American Mussolini … concentrating power in the Trump White House and governing by fiat.”
Ben Domenech, publisher of the conservative magazine The Federalist, wrote that “conservatives should reject Trump’s hollow, Euro-style identity politics.”
Problem is, for some people, “conservatism” means exactly “identity politics.” It’s all about Us vs. Them. It’s about “Taking Our Country Back” (from Those People). It’s about the “Real America” (which is not where Those People live).
The GOP calls itself the conservative party, but then it nominates the poster girl for “Euro-style white Christian identity politics” to be a heartbeat away from the presidency. When it started to go south, alleged conservatives like Bill Kristol (who, lest we forget, is always wrong) continued to defend her even as she dragged the party down to a humiliating defeat.
As for Mr. Boaz’s concerns that Trump isn’t a real conservative because he might “concentrate power in the White House” — well, when you have hosts on Fox News swooning over murdering imperialist autocrats like Vladimir Putin because, in the words of Rudy Giuliani, he “makes a decision and he executes it, quickly, then everybody reacts … that’s what you call a leader” — well, then, it’s hard to really know what the conservatives’ beef is with Trump’s alleged prospective consolidation of power.
The response of Gov. Palin to the concerns of those who are supposedly her fellow travelers? “Give me a break! Who are they to say that? Oh, tell somebody like Phyllis Schlafly — she is the Republican, conservative movement icon and hero and a Trump supporter — tell her she’s not conservative. How ’bout the rest of us? Right wingin’, bitter clingin’, proud clingers of our guns, our God, and our religions, and our Constitution. Tell us that we’re not red enough? Yeah, coming from the establishment. Right.”
The biggest problem with American conservatives in the past few years is that they’ve passively allowed their brand to be used by people like Palin, Trump, Giuliani, et al., who use the word to describe a philosophy of autocracy, paranoia, resentment and exclusion of everyone not like them. Now, it seems, they’re trying to push back, but it may be too little, too late.
If Donald Trump is allowed to take the Republican nomination and run as a conservative candidate, then “conservatism” will be a dirty word in this country for the next hundred years. And it will have deserved its fate.